Bulk Transporter retraces three quarters of a century of covering the evolution of the tank truck industry
Jul 1, 2012 12:00 PM
IT'S SOMETIMES hard to believe that the entity that evolved into today's dynamic tank truck industry came on the scene just about 100 years ago. This was early in the 20th Century, just a few years before the onset of World War I.
Those early tank truck fleets were truly mom-and-pop type operations. There were no big tank fleets, and certainly none with a national presence. Just a handful of the tank truck companies present at the beginning are still in business today.
Those pioneering companies and their owners laid the foundation for what has become one of the most critical segments of the trucking industry. Greg Hodgen, Groendyke Transport Inc president and chief executive officer and the 2011-2012 chairman of National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), provided what is arguably the best description of the tank truck industry in a recent interview:
“Looking down over the whole United States, you see all of these arteries of freeways, highways, secondary roads, even city streets. Then you picture the tank trucks going all over the country delivering gasoline, chemicals, foodstuff, and other products. Seen from that perspective, the tank truck is like the blood that it energizing all of the cells for the whole US economy. The economy would stop without the tank truck industry.”
Such a vital industry sector certainly deserves its own magazine, and the publication now known as Bulk Transporter has been solely focused on the industry for the past 75 years. This special report is a celebration of that milestone for Bulk Transporter, but it is also a celebration of the tank truck industry itself.
New magazine for a new industry
John Conley leads off this stroll down memory lane. Currently president of National Tank Truck Carriers, he served as editor from 1978 to 1989, when the magazine was still known as Modern Bulk Transporter.
Appearances to the contrary, I have not been around the tank truck industry since 1937 when the first issue of The Petroleum Transporter was published. However, I did have the pleasure of knowing the founder and first editor of the magazine known today as Bulk Transporter, and of working for his son who was the second editor and with current editor Chuck Wilson. I served as Assistant Editor from 1972 to 1975 and as the magazine's third editor from 1978 to 1989.
The magazine that has covered the tank truck industry now for 75 years has much in common with the industry with which it has been so intertwined. The Petroleum Transporter began as a small family business in Omaha, Nebraska. Like so many family tank truck carrier and supplier companies, the family magazine grew and was then sold to a larger family-run company and then later to an even larger company that today publishes nearly 100 magazines. The focus through growth and adapting to changing marketplaces has remained a commitment to providing reliable and useful service which in the case of the magazine is information.
Bulk Transporter's roots are in coverage of the new and growing petroleum transportation business in July 1937 when C Austin Sutherland was the first editor of The Petroleum Transporter. In introducing “A New Medium” in July of that year, the publisher wrote:
“The Petroleum Transporter” is the only medium of its kind covering the entire national field of petroleum transportation by motor carrier. It fills a long felt want in carrying its message direct to the operators of thousands of transport units — to the thousands of jobbers, refiners and manufacturers who are using, and are part of one of the latest developments in the oil industry today — the motor transportation of petroleum products.
The tank truck industry has a rich and impressive history. There is no way for anyone interested in this industry to take a “quick trip” back through 75 years of magazines. Each decade takes us on many detours to learn more about the men and women who established and built this essential industry. Innovations such as aluminum tanks, bottom loading and satellite tracking and the cataclysmic impact of deregulation are stories in and of themselves. We will not attempt to cover all of that history here, but hope the reader will enjoy looking back at the challenges and accomplishments covered in thousands of pages of “the tank truck magazine.”
Among the articles in the first edition was a report on a meeting of petroleum carriers in Chicago to form a Petroleum Transporters Association to help the Interstate Commerce Commission to interpret how the Motor Carrier Act would apply to petroleum carriers. The first ad to appear touted the advantages of Fruehauf gasoline trailers which were designed with proper weight distribution and for eliminating “twisting or warping strains on the tank itself.”
Two articles later that first year where indicative of issues that would be addressed many times over the next seven and one-half decades - regulations and competitive constraints pushed by railroads and other anti-trucking interests. The August 1937 issue reported on a proposed regulation from the Bureau of Motor Carrier Safety to limit the size of tanks used to haul “inflammables” to 4,000 gallons. The October issue covered one of many railroad inspired local ordinances, this one in Beatrice, Nebraska, to limit gasoline trucks with a capacity of over 800 gallons to 12 miles per hour.
Magazines from the early years contained many stories on the railroad predecessors of today's CRASH and Advocates for Highway Safety anti-trucking groups to combat increased competition from trucks. The May 1939 issue reported the good news that railroad efforts in 18 states to limit gasoline transports to 2,000 gallons or less failed, and the future several-time presidential candidate Governor Harold Stassen vetoed the bill that did pass in Minnesota. The same issue told readers that the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads said that transcontinental toll super-highways were neither needed nor feasible as only 300 automobiles a day were involved in such trips.
Supporting War Effort
World War II changed the tank truck industry and, ironically, Petroleum Transporter magazine forever. “Through petroleum and its products, the Democracies of the world will prevail,” began an article in the October 1941 issue. By early 1942, the Office of Defense Transportation (ODT) established a division on motor transport and Sam F Niness, formerly vice-president of Leaman Transportation Company, was appointed chief of the Petroleum Carrier Section. The objective of that division which included other experienced tank truck executives was to work for maximum utilization of tank transports to meet civilian and military needs.
Petroleum Transporter editor C Austin Sutherland moved from Nebraska to Washington DC to serve as Niness' assistant. His father Charles M Sutherland remained in Lincoln to help edit and produce the magazine, but Austin continued as editor. Beginning in 1943, the magazine went from a monthly to a bi-monthy schedule. For many years the magazine's masthead listed both Omaha, Nebraska, and Washington DC as office locations. Beginning in 1953 only the Washington DC office was listed. The magazine remained based in Washington until 1979 when it was sold to Tunnell Publications in Houston, by then the epicenter of the tank truck world.
The war years saw many articles on equipment and operations advancements to support our troops in all theaters. In mid-1943, ODT authorized the construction of 200 large-capacity trailers, including 8,000 gallon trains and up to 5,000 gallon semi-trailers. Carriers had to apply for authorization to purchase the trailers and the demand for petroleum was so high that some drivers obtained deferment from military service to ensure a supply of drivers. ODT asked farmers to not order petroleum deliveries of less than 25 gallons and to not “ask the truckman to drive around the farm fueling up equipment here and there.”
In 1943, ODT urged shippers and carriers to cooperate in round-the-clock loading and delivery of petroleum products. One of the key operational wartime rules was ODT General Rule #7 which stated that permits must be obtained for any rail tankcar movement of under 200 miles. That rule was designed to enable tankcars to haul petroleum to the two coasts and was one that increased the demand for tank truck transportation. It was a rule the tank truck industry hoped to see continued after the war's end. Alas, the rule was cancelled as reported in the August/September issue, and the railroads were again free to compete for short-haul traffic.
Advertisements during the war years showed tankers in support service at battle locations around the world. Many called for efficient use of resources such as steel and rubber. Dependability was a constant theme. The April/May 1945 issue covered the end of the war in Europe and reported on a meeting of tank truck executives in Chicago that resulted in the formation of National Tank Truck Carriers as part of the American Trucking Associations. Clark E Seargeant from Santa Barbara, California, was elected first NTTC president. Petroleum Transporter editor C Austin Sutherland was elected secretary and served as NTTC's first managing director, a fulltime staff position.
The long-time close ties between Bulk Transporter and its predecessor magazines and National Tank Truck Carriers has led some to believe that there is a legal connection between the two entities. And even though the first editor of the magazine and the first managing director of NTTC was Austin Sutherland and the third president of NTTC was also the third editor of Bulk Transporter, there is no such corporate connection in our symbiotic relationship.
The March/April 1949 edition of the magazine featured the first publication of the tank truck industry gross revenue report. Coastal Tank Lines of York, Pennsylvania, was the largest carrier with 1948 revenues of $4.8 million. Twenty-one Class I tank truck carriers had revenues over $1 million and the combined revenues for carriers listed was $52.9 million. The November/December issue reported on the first NTTC annual safety contest which had over 100 contestants. Dan Dugan Oil Transport of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was winner of the first contest. Dan Dugan won several of the early contests and made other carriers ask, “What is there to run into in South Dakota?”
For today's younger generation of tank truck managers, the incredible role played by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the impact of that agency on all of trucking might seem almost farcical. In brief, a carrier had to request authority from the ICC to move any product from Point A to Point B. In some cases, you could not go directly to Point B without passing through Points C and D. If a competitor already held authority to haul that load, you had to get support from a shipper of why the additional service was needed. The person already holding that authority also could challenge your request. Backhauls were almost unheard of and competitors could meet through rate bureaus to have anti-trust immunity to establish rates. Some would still refer to those as “the good old days.”
For over half of its history, the magazine carried several pages in each issue in a section called ICC Reports. That section included tank truck carrier applications for Temporary and Permanent Authority, ICC Proposed Rulings, and final Commission Motor Reports. Legions of lawyers and ICC practitioners would try to gain authority for their carriers and oppose a grant of authority to others. Here is a sample of what this writer spent many hours each month sorting through:
Robertson Tank Lines Inc Houston, MC116077 Sub308, LIQUID CHEMICALS, Plaquemine, LA. To all pts in the U.S. except Alaska and Hawaii. Approved
Chemical Haulers Inc., Hammond, MC124070 Sub 20, CHEMICALS in bulk, Ft. Wayne Ind. To Ohio, Pa, Mich, Ill, NY, W.Va, Ky, NC, and Ind. Denied.
With that primer, let's now take an all too short trip through several years of pages from 1950 to the late 1980s to recall some of the key and interesting items from the magazine and the industry. (Note — Events are listed in month they were covered in the magazine.)
July/Aug 1950 - The Interstate Commerce Commission ruled that having authority to transport commodities requiring “special equipment” did not allow a carrier to haul petroleum products in tank trucks. Carriers had to apply for specific tank truck authority.
Mar/April 1952 - The National Petroleum Council reported that 30 billion gallons were hauled the previous year. For-hire petroleum carriers operated 13,488 trailers with an average size of just over 5,000 gallons.
Sept/Oct 1952 - P B Mutrie Transportation of Boston put a plastic trailer into service hauling formaldehyde.
Nov/Dec 1953 - The ICC published a new Specification MC311 to cover corrosive liquid tanks. Fruehauf Trailer of Canada delivered a new 3,000-gallon stainless steel trailer with two inches of cork insulation for wine hauling.
May/June 1956 — The revenue report showed that 89 carriers had reached the $1 million mark. Revenues were sure to go up with the announcement of a 41,000-mile, $38.5 billion interstate highway system.
January 1957 - The Petroleum Transporter had resumed monthly publication and C R Don Sutherland was editor. He would serve as editor until his death in October 1978.
The National Fire Protection Association determined that the use of aluminum for flammable materials cargo tanks posed no special hazard. NFPA standards did have influence on the ICC and were adopted by several states as regulations.
October 1957 - The name of the magazine had been changed to Petroleum and Chemical Transporter to reflect the expanding number of products being transported in tanker and dry bulk trailers. The first four-color cover appeared in that issue and featured seven types of tank trailers operated by E Brooke Matlack of Philadelphia.
Sept 1958 - The ICC ruled that carriers needed special authority to haul empty shipper-owned trailers back to the loading point. There also was an increase in authority applications to haul dry bulk materials in bulk trailers
Apr 1960 - The ICC denied a St. Louis private carrier's request to backhaul bulk products to add economy to its operations. The agency also ruled that tank truck authority was needed to haul rubber bladders if the bladders were filled or emptied upon the truck.
May 1960 - The Heil Company published a study that showed that liquid surge in partially loaded cargo tanks did not have a negative impact on braking. The report also found that partially loaded trailers were not more likely to overturn due to a lower center of gravity.
June 1962 - The tank truck industry reacted strongly against a proposal from President John F. Kennedy to deregulate rates on bulk commodities hauled by truck and rail.
January 1963 - Tests of the effects of baffles in tank trailer compartments cleared the way for an increase to 2,500 gallons in some compartments.
February 1964 - The magazine covered the first meeting of the NTTC Council of Safety Supervisors in Louisville.
April 1966 - The ICC issued an order requiring the marking of vehicles carrying explosives or other dangerous products. The rule allowed the use of GASOLINE or FLAMMABLE on gasoline trailers.
April 1967 - The ICC issued new tank truck specifications MC306, MC307, and MC312 for any trailer built after December 1967. Trailers could be built to those specifications until 1995 when the new DOT406, DOT407, and DOT412 specifications became mandatory.
July 1967 - The newly formed Department of Transportation combined the functions of more than 30 transportation related agencies.
May 1969 - The annual revenue report included 301 tank truck carriers with combined revenue of $895.6 million. Chemical Leaman Tank Lines was the largest carrier and 14 carriers had revenues of $10 million or more.
January 1970 - By 1970, the magazine was called Modern Bulk Transporter as the Sutherland family figured they could not just keep adding names to the title as the industry grew with the number of commodities hauled. Most covers were two color-line drawings of tank trucks or framed black and white photographs with the color being dictated by whatever was chosen by Betts Machine Company for its inside cover advertisement.
December 1970 - The Interstate Commerce Commission on a 7-3 vote approved an application by the Maxwell Company of Cincinnati to make possible a return-haul rate. The ICC said it would allow better utilization of expensive tank truck equipment.
May 1972 — For the first time, tank truck carriers had revenues over $1 Billion in 1971. With revenues of $86.4 million, Chemical Leaman is the largest carrier.
January 1973 — “Like it or not, bottom-loading is here to stay and will increase in popularity, at least with petroleum products, each passing day,” observed a poetic and prophetic article.
April 1974 — DOT's Office of Hazardous Materials proposes a new cargo tank specification MC338 for cryogenic liquids transportation.
May 1978 — Just seven years after topping the $1 billion mark, tank truck carriers exceeded the $2 billion level in 1977. Chemical Leaman Tank Lines, Matlack, and Leaseway Bulk Operations each had over $100 million in revenue. (Where are they now?)
October 1978 — Editor Don Sutherland died and was succeeded by his wife Hazel as publisher, and John Conley became editor.
September 1979 — Trimac Ltd of Calgary, Alberta, Canada purchases Liquid Transporters of Louisville, Kentucky, for $12.4 million.
July 1980 — By a vote of 367 to 13, the House of Representatives passed the Motor Carrier Reform Act of 1980. The Senate had already passed the “deregulation bill” and President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation into law on July 2.
November 1980 — The Sutherland family sells Modern Bulk Transporter to Tunnell Publications in Houston, Texas.
August 1981 — A new Hazardous Information number system is required for all tank trucks by November.
July 1983 — Superfund brings a host of new environmental regulations to the tank truck industry.
September 1983 — Chemical Leaman Tank Lines and E I Du Pont conduct what is believed to be the first computer-to-computer transaction of a tank truck motor carrier freight bill.
January 1984 — A survey of 71 bulk shipper traffic managers found that 70.4% had experienced lower freight bills since deregulation.
November 1986 — The US Department of Transportation issues its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking HM183 in September. The rule eventually resulted in significant requirements for the design, construction, testing, and inspection of cargo tanks and is credited for improving tank truck safety.
July 1986 — A panel on tank trucks of the future at the NTTC Annual Conference in San Francisco predicted there will be increased use of duplex stainless steels, exotic thermoplastic liners, and fiberglass-reinforced plastics in tank trailers needed to haul a growing number of sensitive specialty products.
May 1988 — The emerging issue of quality in the tank truck industry was analyzed in a series of articles on shippers and carriers who were implementing quality process principles, including statistical process control.
For the first time, total tank truck carrier gross revenues topped $3 billion. The Annual Gross Revenue report showed 208 carriers with total revenues of $3.22 billion for 1988.
May 1989 — Cross-border operations were the focus of a Modern Bulk Transporter special report on how tank truck fleets were benefitting from the newly ratified Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States. Potential benefits of an expanded agreement including Mexico were discussed in the report.
Coverage of tank truck activities in Canada had grown steadily through the 1980s, but this was the first big push by Modern Bulk Transporter into the Mexico market. Our interest was driven by our readers, who were looking for opportunities to grow throughout North America.
July 1989 — For the first time in 12 years, imports accounted for more than half of the United States' petroleum needs in July, according to the American Petroleum Institute. While imports were rising sharply, domestic crude oil production continued its steep decline.
RSPA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for HM126F to expand the training requirements for anyone handling hazardous materials. Training for drivers would include operation of emergency controls on vehicles, loading and unloading procedures, special instruction on handling cargo tanks, and retest and inspection requirements for cargo tanks.
August 1989 — Speakers at the American Petroleum Institute Highway Transportation Conference discussed the new federally mandated commercial drivers license and the growing shortage of truck drivers. Texaco's Wes Boat said the industry would need to add at least 450,000 drivers a year through 1997 and would face stiffer competition from other industries for workers.
The first meeting of the newly formed NTTC Tank Cleaning Council was held August 7 in Chicago. About 60 people attended the meeting, which included a presentation on a new confined- space-entry program being developed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
In late 1989, this writer left the truly enjoyable and challenging job as Modern Bulk Transporter editor for an equally rewarding position with National Tank Truck Carriers. Then, as now, I was pleased to turn the “rest of the story” over to my friend and respected editor of Bulk Transporter, Chuck Wilson.
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